North Texas athletic director Rick Villarreal has finished up one coaching search.
He won’t rush to wrap up the second.
Villarreal introduced Mike Petersen as the Mean Green’s new women’s basketball coach Monday afternoon at Apogee Stadium, filling one of the glaring holes in school’s coaching lineup that has undergone a dramatic change in the last few years.
Villarreal will now turn his attention to filling his opening for a men’s basketball coach and the rather large shoes left by Johnny Jones.
Jones was officially introduced as LSU’s new coach on Monday in Baton Rouge, La., ending his 11-year tenure at UNT that saw him take the Mean Green to two NCAA tournaments and the Sun Belt Conference tournament final in four of the last six seasons.
Jones led UNT to five straight 20-win seasons before finishing with 18 wins last season in what was widely seen as a rebuilding year.
His departure added to the turnover in a time of change at UNT.
The school lost women’s basketball coach Karen Aston to Texas after just one season this spring. Football coach Dan McCarney is entering just his second year at the school.
“I know there is some angst and concern, but what I would tell people is that we hired Johnny Jones,” Villarreal said. “We had the foresight and I had the intuition to do that. We hired Karen Aston a year ago and she did a great job. We hired Dan McCarney, who has increased our program tremendously.We are going to get that kind of person.”
Villarreal is not in a rush to find a replacement for Jones.
Assistant coach Shawn Forrest could be a candidate for the job, one Villarreal said has garnered interest from coaches across the country.
Former NBA and college head coach Reggie Theus, Marquette assistant coach Tony Benford, former Nebraska and UTEP coach Doc Sadler, Louisiana-Lafayette and former Sam Houston head coach Bob Marlin and Creighton assistant Steve Lutz are among the coaches who could become involved with the search.
“I’m not going to try to do it in two days because we don’t have to,” Villarreal said. “We have got some time. I’m going to be diligent and see just who is interested and at the end of the day make sure that we have the best pool to pull from.”
That process could take a few days.
“I could talk to some people as soon as the weekend,” Villarreal said. “My goal is to have it done in the next 10 days.”
UNT’s new head coach will take over a team that advanced to the Sun Belt Conference final, despite several changes in the roster throughout the season.
UNT didn’t have star forward Tony Mitchell until the second semester, when he became academically eligible and lost star freshmen Chris Jones and Jordan Williams at about the same time because they did not meet NCAA academic eligibility requirements.
All three are expected to return next season, when the Mean Green could have its top seven scorers returning from a team that finished 18-14, despite a tough schedule that included games against Texas, Mississippi State, Texas Tech and LSU.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of qualified people who apply for the job,” Jones said after being introduced at LSU. “You have a tremendous team returning next year with a great group of young men.”
Jones expects all of UNT’s players who have eligibility remaining to return.
“They have all told me they would stay there together,” Jones said. “They have a chance of doing something special.”
Smith: Mitchell plans on playing another year at UNT
Dallas Pinkston coach Nick Smith said Tuesday that freshman forward Tony Mitchell still plans on returning for his sophomore season, despite Jones leaving UNT for LSU and internet reports that he plans to enter the draft this spring.
Smith said he has remained in contact with Mitchell and his family since the news that Jones was leaving UNT for LSU was announced.
Mitchell said earlier this month that he would return to UNT after averaging 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds a game last season. Mitchell was named the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year and was also a first-team all-conference selection.
“Tony is coming back for another year,” Smith said. “He has a solid commitment to come back to UNT for another year.”
Petersen expects regional ties to pay
New women’s basketball coach Mike Petersen is familiar with Texas and the region from his time as the head coach both at TCU and New Mexico State and expects the comfort level he has with the coaches in the region to pay off.
Petersen was the head coach at TCU from 1996-99 and was at NMSU from 1992-96.
Petersen was introduced as UNT’s new head coach on Monday afternoon.
“It helps a ton to have been in the area,” Petersen said. “One of the things about coaching in Texas is that you have to understand Texas a little bit. You have to know the high school coaches and AAU coaches and the people in the area to recruit their kids. We recruited this area at TCU and recruited it a ton when I was at New Mexico State, too. I am really comfortable with this part of the world and have a really high opinion of basketball in this state.
All but three of the players on UNT’s roster last season were products of Texas high schools, including forward Jasmine Godbolt, a third-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection from Garland.
Petersen plans to contact the five players former head coach Karen Aston signed in the early period in the next few days. All five are Texas products.
“I have not talked to the girls who have signed,” Petersen said. “Those young ladies need to see me and get a comfort level with me. We have always been able to retain the signed seniors.”
Petersen hoping staff will come together quickly
One of the first tasks Petersen will face at UNT is putting together a coaching staff, a task he plans to address quickly.
Aston took two of her assistant coaches with her to Texas – longtime UNT coach Angela Ortega and UNT Hall of Famer Jalie Mitchell, the Mean Green’s all-time leading scorer.
Wesley Brooks is the one coach left at UNT from Aston’s original staff. He spent three seasons at Texas Southern before joining the staff at UNT.
“We are working on the staff,” Petersen said. “It’s a very important part of building a program. I will be very aggressive about bringing the right people in while also being patient to make sure that we find them.”
UNT earns top seed in conference tourney
UNT will enter the Sun Belt tournament this week as the favorite to take home the title – not to mention an NCAA tournament berth.
The Sun Belt released the seedings and bracket for the event that UNT will host beginning Thursday at the Waranch Tennis Center.
UNT will play the winner of a first-round match between No. 8 Arkansas State and No. 9 Florida Atlantic at 11:30 a.m. on Friday.
The semifinals will take place Saturday morning and the championship match at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
UNT is ranked No. 59 in the latest ITA rankings and will try to become the first host team to win the conference tournament since South Alabama in 2003.
UNT has won all six of its matches against Sun Belt competition this year.
Dinuta receives Sun Belt honor
Paula Dinuta was named the Sun Belt Conference Co-Player of the Week on Tuesday after winning all three of her singles and doubles matches last week.
Dinuta swept Nikola Matovicova of UTA 7-6, 6-4 and dominated two Sun Belt opponents, beating both Taylor Coffey of Middle Tennessee and Rosaura Ramirez-Vega of Troy by 6-0, 6-2 scores.
The senior has won her last 10 singles matches.
Fraley receives honor from Sun Belt Conference
UNT designated player Maddelyn Fraley was named the Sun Belt Player of the Week on Monday.
Fraley hit .647 last week and is batting .369 on the year.
Fraley’s performance was a bright spot for UNT, which won just once in a three-game Sun Belt series with Louisiana-Monroe over the weekend.
UNT lost the first two games 2-1 before coming back to win the finale 4-1.
The Mean Green (19-21-1, 9-8-1) sits in fourth place in the Sun Belt standings heading into a game at Oklahoma today. UNT will face South Alabama this weekend in its final home series of the conference season.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .